Long-time readers (i.e. those who have been visiting here when I was actually posting stuff all the time) know that I'm almost as much a baseball fan as I am a basketball fan.
And as a baseball fan, I've been fascinated with Billy Beane and Moneyball for quite a long time. For those who don't know, Billy Beane is the GM of the Oakland A's. And this is important because the Oakland A's have all sorts of things going against them. They don't draw tons of fans. They are second-fiddle to the Giants in their market. They have a small payroll, and they play in a pretty crappy stadium.
This is not exactly the easiest place to put together a winning team. And yet Beane has done so. In the early 2000's, they averaged 94 wins over 7 years. Then they struggled for a while, but for the A's struggling was playing near .500 ball (the Royals wish they could struggle like this). And now they're in a bit of a surge lately, leading the AL in wins this year, plus having the most total wins since 2012. And yet their payroll is minuscule, compared to the Yankess and Red Sox and Dodgers and Angles of MLB. Heck, it's even paltry compared to an average team ... like my Cardinals.
And sure, the A's haven't had a lot of post-season success, but still ... the bang they get for their dollars spent is pretty remarkable.
Lots has been written and said about Beane's philosophy, as put forth in Moneyball. Some say the great lesson is how to evaluate performance. Others say it's about taking intelligent risks, in betting on guys with a 50% chance of being a solid player rather than the guy with a 5% chance of being a superstar.
However, the lesson I prefer is in kind of hinted at by its subtitle: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.
MLB is pretty unfair to the Oakland A's. They don't have the same money to spend, an appealing location, nor a rabid fan base that fills the stadium every weekend. Stuff is stacked against them.
And so they can't do the same things the Yankees do to be successful. They have to be creative, they have to have different ideas, they have to make sure their ideas work. If you're interested, here's a great look at their methods right now.
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I talk about Moneyball on a Jazz blog because, of course, there are some similarities between the Jazz and the A's. The Jazz don't have the money of the Lakers and Knicks. They don't have the destination buzz of Miami or even Phoenix. And while many of us Utahns love it here, I think we can all accept that the hike up to the Adams Canyon Waterfall isn't really going to be a huge selling point for free agents.
Seriously, Jimbo's Twitter Crusade to get Chris Paul on the Jazz is pretty honest about Utah's sex appeal:
.@CP3 Wanna hang with other celebs? Fine. I know a guy who lives next to Wilford Brimley. I'm sure he'd invite you over (on a good day).— Jimbo Slice (@JimboRudding) April 23, 2013
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So, yeah. The Jazz have some things stacked against them.
And yet, we all want to believe they can pull it off and compete for a championship. Probably not next season, but in the near future.
If the team is going to do so, our GM has to be smart. He has to be creative. He has to find things that help teams win that the big markets aren't doing yet.
And so finally we get to Dennis Lindsey. I've been cautiously optimistic for the past year. He made some moves that gave me a lot of hope ... but it was still incomplete. And to be honest, although it was refreshing to see him willing to commit to a real rebuild, that's the easy part. The hard part is making the rebuild actually work. And we're still in the beginning stages of that.
But the past week have given me even more to hope for. It's not even so much that Quin Snyder is the new coach, nor that the Jazz have a NBADL affiliate. What matters far, far more to me is the why. Quin Snyder is the head coach, in part, because of his success in player development. And, in part, because his experience with the Toros gives him unique commitment and insight into how to best use a D-League affiliate.
No, Utah probably won't be drawing LeBron when he opts out (sorry, Jimbo). But what if they can put together the best player development program in the NBA? That's something. That's potentially huge (especially if you accept my opinion that the NBA in general has some really terrible player development practices).
Obviously, we don't know how successful the team's player development plans will turn out. We don't whether Coach Snyder will be what we hope. We don't know if the Stampede will help anyone turn themselves into NBA-caliber players. We don't know what else Dennis Lindsey is thinking about and trying to put together.
But at least the team is looking at the right kind of things. The team is thinking creatively. The team is trying to find strengths to overcome its disadvantages. Not only are Dennis Lindsey and the team making some pretty exciting moves ... but the reasons behind the moves show real commitment to forward thinking.
There's a lot left for the team to successfully rebuild. But we're not on step one, tear the dead weight down anymore. We're looking at the beginnings of step two and feeling more excited than ever.